Tablets Galore

Apologies in advance. I haven’t been blogging but I had some time over the weekend while waiting for my son so I browsed some info from the recent CES.

It looks like 2010 is the year of the tablet or at least the year of the tablet hype. So I figured it was time to restate, at least to myself, what I want in a “tablet.” Note that I have to put tablet in quotes because what I want does not seem to be what everyone else wants. In no particular order I want a computer that can …

Surf the internet
Note taking (including applications for intelligently archiving and searching handwritten notes)
Digital Whiteboard
Word Processing
Excel (although my usage is generally light)
Reading documents in Word, text, and pdf
Watching videos both streaming and local
Editing videos and pictures (limited right now but something I want in a future tablet)

I want a laptop replacement not a media machine (in the jargon of one website I want a Tablet 1.0 instead of a Tablet 2.0). That means there are also some form factor things that I want that are not directly connected to the tasks I will ask the computer to do.

1. Pen input with good handwriting recognition.
2. Light and small enough that I can carry it with me in the same manner I might carry a laptop or netbook.
3. Usable by my not great eyes. This is the only place where I really differ from other computer users. I’m both nearsighted and have the normal aging eyes of those past 40. I want a screen that can be placed comfortably at various positions and distances.
4. Usable while holding it like a clipboard (in either portrait or landscape mode). Nestled in the crook of one arm while standing or sitting is important.
5. Battery life either 6 hours (8 is better) or unimportant.

Since I want to carry it in one arm I will have one hand free for input. A pen is the perfect input tool in that one hand. While a keyboard is great for typing longer text handwriting is an unsurpassed input method for one handed use. This one handed use also limits the device to around 3 pounds or less and a screen size of no more then 12 inches diagonally (limited by my wrist to elbow length as well as the issue of heavier mass acting as a larger torque). Smaller screens are cute and can reduce weight but below about 10 inches the text is just too small. Yes, I could use the zoom feature in applications to make things work with my eyes but then I have to scroll on screen to view the entire document. Even with grab and drag, or flicks, or gestures (whether with mouse, stylus, or finger) scrolling is bad.

Note that while the list of tasks required is not seriously processor intensive an Atom processor is basically the minimum required. My preference is for a stronger processor but its not really critical. Similarly, hard drive space is not that important. An optical drive is not desired. Things can either be loaded over a network or with an external drive. Battery life is sort of the same; either it should be good enough to go through an entire day without significant amounts of charging (at least 6 hours) or it doesn’t matter. Plugged in mode is fine for most usage so a short battery life isn’t a big deal as long as it can last through a long meeting (say 2 hours).

Note that a touch screen is not a desired feature. Its nice for a media player I guess but I’m looking for a working computer. Touch only allows hunt and peck typing if I am using it in my preferred mode. In addition, touch does not provide the tactile feedback of a physical keyboard so I do not envision being able to use it to type even if I had two hands free. Finally, and the real killer, is that touch screen technology doesn’t allow for handwriting recognition. Handwriting input is what allows the tablet to function as a real computer instead of an browsing device and media player. I’m middle aged, academic in nature, and biased towards text over video; deal with it.


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